28/06/2004

Abuse accused troops will be 'rigorously investigated': Straw

Following on from Saturday's International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the government has reiterated its opposition to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners and pledged to "rigorously investigate" all allegations against UK forces.

Exposing torture by law enforcement personnel and educating police and prison officials is vital if we are to make an impact on the worldwide fight against torture, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said.

The seriousness with which the UK has taken the allegations made against a small number of UK personnel in Iraq was a "true test of its commitment to human rights and international humanitarian law", Mr Straw added.

Four UK soldiers face courts martial over charges relating to assault and sexual abuse of Iraqi detainees. The Army Prosecuting Authority is considering seven others cases involving alleged mistreatment of prisoners.

The government said that it would be committing over £380,000 this year to combating torture; tackling, for example, police brutality in Nigeria, preventing confessions obtained by torture in China, and training NGOs to monitor prisons in Kazakhstan.

To mark this year's UN day for the victims of torture, the Foreign Office has launched a worldwide lobbying campaign to encourage other countries to join the UK in signing and ratifying anti-torture treaties.

Last year the UK signed the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture, which the UK then ratified on 10 December, UN International Human Rights Day, becoming only the third country in the world to do so. The Protocol, which aims to promote a more intensive and concerted international approach to eradicating torture, for example stipulating that places of detention should be inspected by international teams, will enter into force when 20 states have ratified it.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the UK has been working to support the establishment of new human rights mechanisms to prevent future torture, the government said.

"Since the UK Anti-Torture Initiative was launched in 1998, the FCO (Foreign & Commonwealth Office) has intensified its efforts to combat torture wherever and whenever it occurs. We vehemently oppose torture as a matter of fundamental principle. Torture is absolutely prohibited in international law and is to be condemned," the Foreign Secretary said.

"In the majority of torture cases around the world it is law enforcement officials who are guilty of abuse. The FCO will be working with serving and retired UK police officers to produce a new manual guiding police forces on alternative and humane investigation techniques - in line with country-specific procedures."

(gmcg)

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